The Carpathian Route – a multi-million dollar fiasco of Law and Justice party

The Podkarpackie voivodeship lost millions of zlotych allocated for an international project because as it declared itself an LGBT-free zone. This was the decision of the Norwegian Funds donors (Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein), well hidden by Polish ministries, which I managed to access. 

Funding for the international project No. 0501, in preparation since 2018, entitled “Carpathian Route–exploring, promoting and protecting the richness of the cultural and natural heritage of the Carpathian Region” was already allocated from the Norwegian funds, but the anti-LGBT resolution resulted in it being withdrawn.

Marshal Władysław Ortyl discussed how to develop the Carpathian region in Rzeszów with Harald Egerer, Director of the UN Environment Programme Office in Vienna already in 2018. Boisterous advertisements and an impressive project. What was its objective? Promoting and preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the Carpathians through improved regional cooperation, building potential and exchange of knowledge, in particular with stakeholders from other mountainous areas such as the Alps and Norway, while ensuring socio-economic development for the local communities. Fairs, festivals, promotion of traditional Carpathian products and a range of initiatives were to be organized under the project. This would translate into prestige and long-term promotion of this region in Europe. The Podkarpackie voivodeship was planned as the project leader and institutions from the Czech Republic, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia would also be involved.

Once the project got approved in 2019, the necessary partnerships concluded, funds for the region’s contribution secured in the budget, on 14 June 2019 the council of the provincial assembly adopted a special resolution to secure the implementation of the project in the subsequent years. However, a month earlier the same councillors of the Podkarpackie Voivodeship Assembly voted for a resolution opposing the so-called “LGBT ideology”. The adoption of this document torpedoed the international project worth several million zloty. 

In September 2020, FMO (The Financial Mechanism Office – the secretariat of the Norwegian Funds) requested to inform the Podkarpackie Voivodeship, being the leader of the 0501 “Carpathian Route” project and other beneficiaries that due to the resolution adopted by the provincial assembly, the grant allocated for this project was cancelled. They stressed that by adopting a resolution explicitly referring to “LGBT” or “LGBT ideology”, the project leader discriminates against a specific group of people, i.e. people from the LGBT community. The decision is final and not subject to appeal.

What does it mean? Missing ca. 1.7 million euro (about 8 million zloty) of funding for the development and promotion of the region. Instead of the Carpathian Route, tourists will see the most expensive LGBT-free zone in Poland with information about this also being transmitted to the international project partners, who also won’t receive funding for their activities planned under this project.

The councillors meticulously carefully hide their failure as the official website of the Podkarpackie voivodeship does not feature any information about the withdrawal of subsidies. Polish ministries also fail to share knowledge about the issue and were unwilling to share any information with me. Based on the Act on Access to Public Information Act I submitted my questions to several ministries, including the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Instead of an answer, I was informed that the deadline for providing it was extended, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs judged that finding the documents on the case requires considerable effort, and thus they preferred to deny me access to information on the grounds that there was no public interest in disclosing it. Together with Watchdog Poland, I will bring this case before an administrative court, that may force them to search better and find what is needed…

Fortunately, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not have any problems with public scrutiny and has provided me with all the most important documents in its correspondence with the Polish authorities regarding the zones and, specifically, the 0501 project. 

It turns out that already in July 2020 the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy had received a special note from the FMO, informing that anti-LGBT resolutions may violate the regulations for the allocation of Norwegian Funds. As this did not change Poland’s approach on LGBT-free zones, and as the explanations provided by the Polish side were considered unsatisfactory, in another letter, dated 23 September 2020, the Polish authorities were informed that the states financing the Norwegian Funds considered that supporting projects of local governments that are “LGBT-free zones” would constitute a violation of the rules for granting Norwegian funds. At the same time, they made it clear that the Polish authorities should ensure that no such local government receives funding under the Norwegian Funds.

Despite the clear position of the donor countries, in their reply of 2 October 2020, the representatives of the Polish government were still playing the “everything is ok” game, as Article 32 of the Polish Constitution prohibits any discrimination, including discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, thus local governments do not discriminate against anyone… Admittedly, several judgements of Polish administrative courts suggest something different, as precisely based on the said Article 32 of the Constitution, they have already invalidated four such resolutions (Istebna, Klwów, Osiek and Serniki)… However, no such mention can be found in the said reply… Another success of Polish diplomacy…

This is not the only Polish project that failed to receive funding because of the adoption of an anti-LGBT resolution. In its correspondence with me, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it will soon provide me with documents concerning another Polish local government and another cancelled grant… But I will write about this shortly.

Illustration just for the purposes of article/EastNews

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